An Orange County Fire Authority (OCFA) firefighter just won a state appellate court ruling under the California Firefighters' Procedural Bill of Rights.
The firefighter in question is Steve Poole, whose personnel file was kept at the OCFA headquarters in Irvine. What Poole did not discover until later was his fire captain, Brett Culp, kept his own notes on Poole and others he supervised.
Under the Firefighters' Procedural Bill of Rights, which became law in 2007, firefighters are to be read any negative comments from supervisors before they are placed in his or her personnel file, with the understanding a process can then be launched with the aide of the firefighters union to challenge those comments.
Culp kept his own separate notes on those he managed to help with annual face-to-face evaluations, something Poole did not know until he had his yearly sit down with his superior and discovered his work from Sept. 28, 2008, through Sept. 28, 2009, had been deemed substandard.
Poole complained to his battalion chief and the Orange County Professional Firefighters Association about Culp's note keeping. The union demanded to see all of Culp's records at the station on Poole, which led to the discovery of a wide variety of notes indicating the firefighter needed to improve his job performance.
That led to a formal complaint to the OCFA seeking the removal of Culp's notes on Poole because they violated state law. The OCFA sent a letter back explaining that the captain's evaluations were not placed in Poole's personnel file kept in Irvine and thus not in violation of the provisions of the Firefighters' Procedural Bill of Rights.
Poole sued but an Orange County Superior Court judge sided with the OCFA, agreeing Culp's notes were not part of the firefighter's personnel file and more like “Post-it notes” to help remind the captain of things to bring up in employee evaluations.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal this week reversed the trial judge's ruling, sending the matter back to that court.
“Because the daily logs on Poole's activities at work and kept in a file with his name on it were used for personnel purposes and were disclosed to superiors–again for personnel purposes–Poole was entitled to respond to adverse comments contained therein,” wrote Justice Eileen C. Moore in the opinion affirmed by two other appellate judges.
Moore added it was “evident the daily logs affected Poole's job status” and that daily logs kept in the fire station apart from his official personnel file were “used for personnel decisions.”